Pirate Gold!

Old Quarry Road

Old Quarry Road in the late 1960s. Photo art by the author.

The road in front of our childhood home has a history almost as old as St. Augustine. Huge coquina blocks were dragged from their Anastasia Island quarry down this road to be loaded on barges and floated across the bay to the Castillo de San Marcos construction site. The road is lined with ancient live oak and cedar trees creating a tunnel effect. Several times the city tried to pave the road, but residents fought to keep the trees. An exception to city code was eventually approved, allowing it to be paved at less than “regulation” width.

One of those ancient live oak trees shaded the road right next to our driveway. In the early sixties, a construction crew digging ditches for sewer lines found the skeletons of two Indians under this oak tree. Archaeologists were called in to review the site and the remains were removed for study before the construction crew continued their work. The ditch was dug, pipe was laid and things returned to normal – almost.

Someone remembered a story about a pirate – I don’t remember which one now – who had been offered amnesty by the Governor of Florida. This pirate expected treachery when he met with the governor so he buried his treasure before he got to the town. According to the story, he and his two Indian servants buried the gold on the south side of a live oak tree on Anastasia Island – then he killed the two Indians and buried them with the treasure. He was right to take precautions. Instead of amnesty, he was arrested and later executed. His treasure was never claimed.

Imagine the hornets nest this legend stirred up. People were constantly digging in front of our house trying to find the treasure. As soon as the police chased them off, more would show up. Our parents found all this commotion quite irritating but we kids loved it. Pirates! How could you not love pirates!

It would be weeks before things settled down again.

The reality check is that about 100 yards east of the now infamous live oak tree is the remains of an Indian village. It is probably where the quarry workers lived during the fort’s construction. On the west side of our property – at the edge of Quarry Creek – those Indians would harvest and clean oysters and clams for their meals. It’s not surprising to any of us that Indians would be buried in the area.

Not surprising, but not near as interesting as pirate gold.

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